What to Pack When Back-Packing

What to pack when back packing
After a couple of trips to Europe and one eight week back packing adventure, I learned a lot about what to pack and what to leave behind. Here is my advice for your next big trip, back-packing or no:

Don't leave the house without:

  • Ipad or tablet. Add all your books onto the tablet and you will save big on space. 
  • Ear plugs & eye-mask. For those times when you want to pretend your not on a 10 hour bus ride or spending the night a 'party hostel'. 
  • Smart phone & earbuds. We didn't have a international mobile plan when we travelled, but if your phone connects to the internet then you will still use this resource all the time. Need a Map? Need to send a quick email to your AirBnB host? Stop at a cafe with Wifi and you are set. Also, I keep my music on my iPhone, so I would listen to music all the time. 
  • Camera. Whatever suits your fancy or skill level. I brought a heavy Nikon - no regrets. 
  • Power adaptor! Find out what type of outlets are used in the countries you will be traveling and bring a power adaptor. And don't forget - you will need that iPad charger, too.
  • Lock. You will need to secure your bag while staying at a hostel. Most have lockers or metal cages to store your bags, but you will need to secure the luggage yourself. 
  • Flip flops (for the showers, beach, etc).
  • Camping towel. If you are truly back-packing it, you will need an absorbent towel that dries quickly. You may not need it all the time, but it will come in handy (and most come in compact sizes complete with it's own bag to attach to the outside of your back-pack). 
  • Collapsable handbag or day pack. Nothing screams: I am a tourist like a backpack. Be on guard for pickpockets and never keep all your money and values in a bag. That said, as a woman I still needed a handbag. I just did and I never had a problem. 
  • Money pouch (the type you wear underneath your clothes). Once we had a place to spend the night - we always locked up our passports in the room or with the hotel staff. While in transit, always have your passport and credit cards close to your person. 
  • Melatonin (or some type of sleeping medication)
  • Pepto Bismol tablets
  • Alka-Seltzer tablets
  • Spray Neuosporen/Bandaids
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet-one (wet toilettes) and travel Kleenex 
  • Nail polish removed pads (individually wrapped). Yep, I did my nails abroad. Too fussy? Then skip this one. 
  • Easy tear tape (like Pritt) - You will find a million uses for tape, strangely enough. 

The Rules:

  1. Leave space in your bag! Even if you are not planning on buying gifts or mementos (which I recommend you ship anyway), you will be buying things and filling up your pack. Give yourself some space to work with before you leave.  
  2. Outside of socks, shoes & underwear, you only need one of everything. Seriously. I didn't follow this rule and I regretted it. All of the duplicates I brought where just dead weight on my back. Turns out I didn't need two pairs of black leggings, white button-down shirts or two pairs of jeans. 
  3. If you are going for a long time (over 2 weeks), remember you will be doing laundry, it's not a bad idea to bring individual detergent pouches of a brand you trust.
  4. Toiletries, If you are not keen on bringing the whole nine yards - Don't worry, you can always buy these abroad. I never had trouble finding toothpaste. 
  5. Bring emergency medicine, because when you need it, you need it & you may not want to pantomime  'diarrhea' when you don't speak the local language. Just saying. 
  6. It bears repeating, ship gifts or large purchases back home instead of lugging them around. Sure you risk that these items get "lost in the mail" - but that's rare and that weight off your back is priceless. Still nervous? Ship UPS or FedEx with insurance. 


  1. Mix and match outfits before the trip.  Make sure the clothes you pack go together, remember layers are good. If you are a woman, like me you can get a lot of miles out of a little black dress.
  2. Remember, you are not going on safari (unless you really are), remember to bring fashionable clothes you like. Everything doesn't have to be practical. That said, don't bring an heirloom that would destroy your trip if you lost it or it was stolen. I left my expensive wedding ring back home and it was a load off my mind.
  3. When packing, roll your clothes - you will save on space in your bag and it makes it easier to find.
  4. A jacket. Try to bring one that is easily rolled up, but if worse comes to worse you can always wear the jacket in transit or strap it to the outside of your bag. 
  5. Bring a cloth bag for dirty clothes. It will make you life a lot easier, knowing your dirty socks and underwear and not mixing it up with the clean clothes in your pack.
  6. Shoes. I didn't bring running shoes, because I didn't want to look like a tourist and guess what? I never regretted it. Just make sure the shoes you pack are comfortable and don't over do it. Again, you can buy shoes in transit, if not having a pair of tennis shoes becomes a major problem. If you plan on hiking, then ignore this "city traveller's" advice. 
There you have it - that is my advice for long trips abroad. If you have anything to add, please share your packing tips and advice! 

And for all of you about to embark on a new adventure, bon-voyage! 

    What does it mean to be a mother in the "modern age"?

    As my baby and I enter our third trimester, I have been contemplating what it means to be a mother. What is means to bring life into this modern world. Eventually, my thoughts turn to the great fabric of life - where we all play a part.

    Each one of us is woven from a rich history, generations of people that came together, knit their destinies as one and created life. Our lives are a tapestry of people stretching back into time, while we simultaneously press forward - building upon the legacy and actively participating in life. Linking our history/s together - shaping the world we see today and the future of the world to come.

    This thing we call family, society and culture belong to us all - we are the patrons. We are responsible for it's health. Let us hope we are indeed crafting a beautiful life, mending the tears along the way and building stronger ties in turn. I have strong faith in the inherit goodness of people and as a soon to be mother, I hope that the legacy my child finds is a good one. A strong foundation he can build upon for generations to come.

    The number one Feng Shui rule everyone should follow

    The best thing I ever did (other than marry my husband) was take control of the clutter in my house.

    The number one Feng Shui rule everyone should follow: Simplify. Get rid of the stuff you don't need, want or use.

    I have alway been fascinated with Feng Shui and the book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston changed my life. Seriously. Have a garage sale, donate your items to charity, but whatever you do: stop holding onto to things because "maybe I'll need it one day".  The truth is: you won't.

    We surround ourselves with stuff for a variety of reasons, but this one peccadillo is causing more harm than good. Ask your self, why you are holding onto all the stuff you don't use, need or want. Take a hard look at how the clutter makes feel and decide to take control once and for all.

    Even if you don't believe in Feng Shui, I guarantee you will feel better once you eliminate the clutter from your life. There is never a better time than the new year to make a fresh start....or at least save on organization bins from your favorite box store.

    Remember: less is more. Start slow and only surround yourself with things you love or make you feel good. Free up that stagnate chi energy and experience the transformation for yourself.

    Here are the signs it is high time to clean up your act.

    All images & content by: Elizabeth Aley

    Decorating ideas for a small apartment

    For the past eight years, I have lived in downtown Portland, Oregon. Sharing 555 square feet with two cats and my husband Rob. Here are my tips for living happily in an itty bitty space.

    Location, Location, Location

    The old adage is true! The first rule to urban living is finding a location you love. Whether that means walking distance to shops, proximity to work or a safe neighborhood. Having a good location improves your quality of life and that pays dividends in the long run.

    A View to Greet You

    Our view looks directly onto a beautiful eighty-eight year old Cathedral.  I realize that a view like this is not common, but remember you will be stuck with your view every single day. The Church greets me every morning and the intricately patterned stained glass windows tuck me into bed every night. When you sacrifice space,  a good view slaps you in the face, reminding you why you love your home.
    Curate a Quality Collection 

    Since space is limited, don't waste money on things you don't love. It might seem like a no brainer, but it is tempting to fill an empty space with something, even if you swear it is only temporary. Save your money! You'd be surprised how quickly 'temporary' fixes hang around.  It's okay if it takes time to save the money and find the right thing. Quality wins out in the end.

    Furniture that does Double Duty

    This secretary desk was in my Aunts family for generations and made the journey over from Sweden, it has so many nooks and crannies, I am able to squirrel away untold treasures. This piece ticks all the boxes for me, it is beautiful, compact and provides ample storage.

    The Little Luxuries 

    Flowers freshen up your home in a flash and don't take up a lot of space. I go for large & dramatic floral pieces. I keep it simple with branches, like the magnolia branches shown or maple branches and evergreens. Set your budget (I spent $10 dollars a week) and stick to it.

    Thanks for taking a tour of my tiny home! 

    Make an impact by the door :: Planters paired with house numbers

    Image of Flower planter with house numbers

    Looking to make a good first impression on your guests? 

    Why not add a planter by your door and add some fresh greens from the garden! I like to select flowers from the garden and mix them in with some potted plants. It's an easy way to make a big impact on your entry way without having to stress.  

    Image of Flower planter with house numbers

    Pro tip to make your life easier: Soak floral Oasis with water and place inside the container if you don't want to plant flowers. Another alternative: use floral frogs at the base of the container or make a tape grid inside the container to keep the flowers upright.

    All images & content by: Elizabeth Aley

    Striped Painted Wall :: Our Bedroom

    While fumbling through my photo heap in Dropbox, I found this picture of our bedroom circa 2012.

    Honestly, not a whole lot has changed in the room. We still have those light gray and white striped walls, the four poster Ikea bed frame, the Pottery Barn medicine lamps, the slip covered night stands and the antique French chairs. Every season, I still I fill our tall vases with fresh branches and bring the outside in.

    That furry pillow, our cat Biscuit, has since passed away. It was the picture of him that stopped me on this image. I never shared this image before. At the time, I didn't think the bedroom was up to snuff. Looking at it now, I love it and realized I must be doing something right, if I have barely changed a stitch in the room. Still wish I had that furry little pillow, though. I miss that boy.  

    Dede Wood's California Country Home

    A well designed home is about the details. Dede Wood's house in Santa Ynez Valley is filled with subtle features that bring everything together:  the antiques, the fabrics and the nonchalant kitty crossing your path. There is something special about this home and you are reminded everywhere you turn.

    Not enough? Here are more images of Dede's house

    Vintage Hats: A Return to Class

    In my mother's closet there are hat boxes stacked in neat rows; round and square boxes, statuesque like tiered wedding cakes. They are pink, blue, white with gold trim and inside each box is a delicate, bold, unique hat wrapped in tissue paper. Each hat a masterpiece in it's own rite. 
    My mother never wears them, at least not anymore. They were relics from her past life, a time before children and PTA meetings.  

    By the eighties, when I came around, the hat boxes were busy gathering dust.  The only place I ever actually saw people wearing hats where in movies and old family photos. 

    When I first put on my mother's hats, it was dress up, pure and simple. I would pull each hat box down and try each one on for size. Floppy brims, derby hats, fascinators. I would stare at my transformed self in the mirror, then take them off and place them neatly back into their box.

    It wasn't until I was a card carrying, mortgage paying adult that I started wearing hats in real life. I feel classy when I wear a hat. I feel transformed. Not into something I am not, but my authentic self.  

    It feels like every couple of years the pendulum swings on trends. Names popular a 100 years ago abruptly come back into fashion. People who had been rebelling against there parents, begin to idealize their grandparents generation.  Maybe things are on the cusp of swinging back towards hats. Only time will tell. 

    Almost didn't publish this

    I write a lot things that I don't publish. I am my own worst editor. It's never done, never quite what I wanted to say. Sometimes I think of one clever line and I can't surround it with a suitable supporting cast, so I'll stop writing altogether.

    I'll probably read this exact paragraph over and over again, until my eyes bleed. Editing is like an unraveling thread for me, I'll try to fix the sweater, but end up with a heap of yarn in my hands. Life is like that sometimes. I try to do everything right and mess the whole thing up.

     In This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett says this about writing:

    "Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words. This is why we type a line of two and then hit the delete button or crumble up the page. Certainly that was not what I meant to say! That does not represent what I see. Maybe I should try again another time. Maybe the Muse has stepped out back for a smoke."  

    Later in the essay, Patchett acquits writing to plucking a butterfly from her mind and killing it on the page. Looking through all my unpublished blog posts is like looking at my collection of dead butterflies. I'll open one up and run the other way, because I can't deal, so I'll write something else to abandon.

    I didn't make any New Years resolutions for 2014, but maybe this year I will get the courage to show you all my dead butterflies. It may not be pretty, but at least it is honest.

    Home in Portland

    The view from our balcony

    My husband Rob and I are thinking about moving. We have called this place home for 8 years and for all of my house/baby lust, the truth is I don't want to leave. If and when we leave, I know I will cry. Rob and I built our family here.

    I was told never to get emotionally attached to "property", but I just can't manage that, so I haven't even tried. I pray that even when we do move, we can keep it. Rent it to a nice couple with cats and come back in our old age.